Why Study in Ghana?
I chose to study abroad in Ghana for a variety of reasons, but I think I can finally admit that one of them was to take the road less traveled. We all know about the programs in Copenhagen and Kyoto, or the semesters in New Zealand and Spain. Yet one continent that is often overlooked for study abroad is Africa. This became evident when I shared my plans for the spring semester with fellow Americans. Our conversations usually unfolded like this:
“Actually, I’ll be studying abroad next semester!”
“Very cool, where are you going?”
“Oh wow! What are you going to be doing there?”
Despite the clear use of “study” in studying abroad, the common perception of Africa is often narrow and outdated, making it difficult for people to even conceive of attending a college in an African country. This, in fact, was one of the primary reasons I chose my location. I was eager to explore perspectives that have been omitted from colonial and western narratives, including Pan-Africanism and real-world experience in developing economies.
However, in my quest to deconstruct prevailing myths and prejudices surrounding the diaspora, I found myself repeatedly confronting my own ignorance and privilege throughout this journey. Within my first week in Accra, several native Ghanaians asked me, “Why did you choose Ghana?” Initially, my response was, “I’ve always wanted to go to Africa.” In doing so, I inadvertently reduced a rich tapestry of diverse cultures and countries into a single experience, highlighting that traveling across the world isn’t enough to escape ignorance. I had much to learn. Moreover, being asked this question by native Ghanaians wasn’t just a casual conversation starter; it was a genuine challenge to the privilege that underpinned my decision. This privilege encompasses both the freedom to leave a country like the US where millions are annually denied entry into, and the ease with which I could come and go from a country where millions are unable to depart. This disparity was vividly encapsulated in my experience obtaining a visa for my semester abroad. Admittedly, I tend to be a last-minute person, and studying abroad was no exception. The day before my flight to Accra, I took the metro to the Embassy of Ghana in Washington D.C. However, I arrived to find the embassy closed to visitors on Fridays, with its gates securely locked. After some persuasive dialogue with the security guard, I implored the first person I encountered to help me secure a student visa before my 9 a.m. flight. By evening, I had one in hand. Throughout my stay, I grappled with the concept of passport privilege. This is especially poignant considering the surge of Black Americans, such as myself, traveling to West Africa. Often, these people seek to reconnect with an “ancestral homeland” and escape the systematic racism and oppression found in the US. The latter was somewhat true; in Ghana, my identity and privilege was defined by nationality, instead of race. However, I learned that I was not escaping racism or oppression – instead, my citizenship was merely providing me with more power in a global context of oppression. Persisting colorism, a defining factor in my time abroad, serves as one testament to this. Throughout this experience, I explored not only the current and historical colonization of Ghana, but also how all tourists, regardless of their race, are complicit in an unjust power dynamic when visiting a developing country.
Beyond my personal discoveries, one of my major revelations about Ghana was its status as a young country. Not only is the young population steadily growing, with 57% of its population younger than 25 (Ghana Statistical Services, 2023), but it has only been an independent country for a short time. Ghana recently celebrated the 66th anniversary of its independence from France this past spring. This youthful vigor permeates the nation, evident in the highly artistic architecture springing up amidst rapid urbanization, and the rising prominence of young Ghanaians artists. This vitality persists despite the enduring legacies of colonialism and ongoing efforts by countries like the US and France to exploit Ghana’s resources. While I relished in high-quality restaurants and danced to popular Afrobeats songs, one sector I hope to focus on in these blogs is the fashion industry. I’m currently writing this post in a pair of hand-stitched pants I got from a Ghanaian streetwear festival. By delving into the history and current endeavors in commercial fashion, I was afforded a unique perspective on how countries reclaim their identity after colonization, and a glimpse into the vibrant cultural hubs that exist outside of recognized institutions in the global North.
My time in Ghana not only allowed me to witness the post-colonial reconstruction of nations but also prompted deep introspection into my own identity. It compelled me to scrutinize what identity means in the context of race, class, and nationality. During my time there, I came to understand a different meaning of what a “developing” country truly is. Rather than using this label to cast countries as inexplicably and statically disadvantaged, we should acknowledge the historical and contemporary exploitation directly contributing to their struggles and celebrate the bounds we’ve accomplished. I hope my posts can help recast Ghana as the young, exciting country it is, and as one that is teeming with potential beyond what can be measured or extracted by foreign interests.